By Carl E. Chance
What gives an aviation museum spirit, a pervading animating principle? Is it the building, the aircraft displayed, or the artifacts that chronicle the past, telling the story of aviation pioneers and the craft they flew? The Kansas Aviation Museum believes that its much more than that.
An aviation museum needs dedicated and creative people who have the vision and the passion, giving rise to what can only be recognized as a profound spirit, evidenced by the daily work in maintaining and growing the historic collections. The difference magnifying the dimension of that spirit lies in the depth and commitment of the dedicated staff and volunteers in their quest to keep aviation history alive in the present and for future generations.
Spirit is difficult to communicate because it’s so intangible. You know that spirit itself can’t be touched, seen or heard, but when you’re in the midst of a museum that expresses the spirit of aviation, you can sense it. Spirit will manifest itself in various forms as people act on that spirit to do creative works.
One leading aviation museum director I’ve had the honor to know who has this spirit, is Walter J. Boyne, former director of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. Walter took that museum to new heights with collections, artifacts, restorations and memberships. Walter also founded Air & Space Smithsonian Magazine and is now a world renowned aviation historian and author. His awards and fame go way beyond what is mentioned here. The Smithsonian certainly maintained the spirit that propelled the institution to excellence.
Following in Boyne’s footsteps today I’m proud to say, is a unique person I also have the honor of knowing who exhibits that same spirit. He is Lon Smith, Executive Director of the Kansas Aviation Museum in the city of Wichita, Kansas, known as the “Air Capital of the World.”
Lon certainly exemplifies that special spirit, showing the passion and pride of accomplishment over the past several years with restoration and upgrades to historic property, exhibits, marketing and promotion. It shows in the growth and development in an impressive way. The monthly open house exhibits with educational programs that take place expand the museum’s value and make for welcome community support.
Lon Smith, originally from Wood River, Illinois, a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, holds a Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in Speech Communications, a Master of Public Administration with a nonprofit management emphasis and is a Ph.D candidate in Public Policy and Administration with a nonprofit management emphasis. Current dissertation is focused on museum innovation.
Smith has been involved with museums from a very early age, having volunteered in museums where his mother, LaWanda Smith was curator then director. In 2005, Smith decided to persue a career in museum management; returning to school to complete a second masters degree and going on to work toward his Ph.D in nonprofit management. At the same time, Smith began employment with the Museum of World Treasures as Director of Marketing and then in June of 2008 took over as executive director of the Kansas Aviation Museum.
Lon Smith has stated, “When individuals journey from around the world, they visit our local museums. This is particularly true with regard to visiting the Kansas Aviation Museum. When pilots, celebrities and aviation enthusiasts come to town to receive flight training and service their aircraft, or to buy one of our Wichita produced aircraft, they know of our Air Capital of the World heritage.” Smith went on to say, “After 20 years of perseverance, the Kansas Aviation Museum has proved that it is a part of the fabric of our community. It is in the right location and is poised to become the world-class aviation museum that Wichita deserves.”
Looking to the future, there is more that can be done to show pride in the long and rich Kansas and Wichita aviation heritage. The Kansas Aviation Museum housed in the original, historic Wichita Air Terminal, is the gateway to this heritage and, as such, is something about which the populace state-wide can all take great pride.
When visiting The Kansas Aviation Museum, you will find this spirit at work with the team of Lon Smith, his staff and the valued volunteers scurrying about the museum working on the many and varied projects in their efforts to grow the museum through their unity and combined strength of Spirit. Of equal importance are the committed volunteer members of the board of directors who labor to keep the economics of the museum on a stable path of equilibrium. Their efforts are tireless and deserve valued recognition.
There are countless aviation museums across America that endeavor to preserve their individual aviation history and they deserve the recognition and support of the community, city and state. Their value far exceeds their presence. Educational programs that spark our young people with the spirit of aviation will pay off in the future generations of pilots, engineers, astronauts and many other aviation related occupations. The strength of our nation is truly dependent upon the spirit of innovation and commitment.
For more information on the Kansas Aviation Museum, please log on to, www.wingsoverkansas.com; scroll down to Special Subjects and click on the Kansas Aviation Museum Journal. Also, please visit www.wingsovertheworld.com for an International resource on aviation and aerospace subjects.